The screen door rapidly closed behind me with a loud SLAM! From the kitchen, I would hear my mom holler, “Don’t slam the screen door!” After entering the dining room, I always gave a weak, “I’m sorry,” followed by, “Mom, what’s for supper?”
It was as though we boys expected Mom to run some type of a short-order grill.
A picture of my mom should be listed next to the word “frugal” in the dictionary. The art of frugality was thrust upon her while growing up as one of 13 children during the Great Depression. Years later, in the 1960s and ’70s, while raising eight children of her own, she continued to pinch pennies in order to feed her family. As the oldest of her children, I never ceased to be amazed at the meals Mom managed to place upon our kitchen table.
“We’re havin’ breakfast for supper,” Mom would say.
My mother had a huge electric griddle that was 2 feet long and a foot and a half wide. She would set that thing on the breakfast bar, and then we eight kids would eat in two shifts on the bar stools.
“John, how do you want your eggs? Hard, scrambled, or dippy?” Mom would ask.
“Do you want your bacon crispy or floppy?”
“What about your toast — cut into rectangles or triangles?”
That was me. Dippy, crispy, and triangles — the triangles were great for dipping. I don’t know how Mom kept the orders straight, because Jerry might want scrambled, floppy, and rectangles; Joe might want hard, crispy, and triangles; and so it went on down the line.
After fixing the bacon, Mom would pour the grease into an old coffee can, which she stored in the refrigerator. How frugal was that?
“Don’t let the screen door slam shut!” Mom would yell.
“I’m sorry. Hey, Mom, what’s for supper?”
“We’re havin’ square hamburgers.”
McDonald’s had the Big Mac, Burger King had the Whopper, and Mom’s Diner had Square Hamburgers.
On Saturday nights, Mom would take a break from the weekday drudgery of preparing a big supper. Instead, she would break out the big electric griddle again, plug it in on the breakfast bar, and cover its entire surface with little square hamburgers.
Mom bought all of our meat from a place in town called Circleville Fast Freeze. The butcher there prepared hamburgers in flat, square patties, separated by slices of wax paper. Mom bought these bricks of frozen hamburger patties by the truckload and stored them in our second freezer down in the basement.
I preferred my Square Hamburger medium-rare with cheese, dill pickles, and onion. Dad liked his well-done with cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Again, I have no idea how Mom kept it all straight.
Whatever the condiments, those Square Hamburgers fit the buns perfectly, with four corners of hot, dripping beef just barely sticking out, and melted cheese oozing out all four sides. The icing on the cake was that Mom would even let us drink pop with our Square Hamburgers. After all, it was Saturday night. Hang on to your hat! The Scanlan boys were out of control.
“What do I always tell you about slammin’ the screen door?” Mom would say.
“Oops! I’ll remember next time.”
“Well, you better.”
“What’s for supper, Mom?”
“We’re havin’ Fried Bologna.”
“Oh, Mom, you’re the best!”
Had anyone ever heard of Fried Bologna as a meal? Maybe not, but we sure knew about it. Mom had a huge, black castiron skillet, and she would get it out and fry bologna in the leftover bacon grease from the coffee can. I simply ate my fried bologna on a fold-over sandwich with a little mustard.
“You just halt your fanny right there, little mister!” Mom would tell me.
“What? What did I do?”
“Turn around and march yourself right back outside, and then come back in without slamming the screen door.”
“Awwww, jeeez,” I would mumble.
I would then step back out onto the deck and turn around. There, I’d grab the screen door’s handle and pull the door open slowly. Without releasing the handle, I would step into the dining room, then let the screen door slowly shut behind me.
“That’s better,” Mom would say.
“Mom, what’s for supper?”
“I’m making Gravy Bread.”
Mom served a lot of Gravy Bread. It was just gravy on a slice of bread. That was it! But it was oh-so-good. No matter what supper consisted of, each of us kids had to be a “clean-plater,” or else Mom would lecture us about the starving kids in the world. And whenever we left uneaten food on our plates, Mom would say, “Your eyes were bigger than your stomach.”
Dad would sit on his throne at the end of the dining room table, as he always ate supper after the craziness of feeding eight kids. Then, still wearing his dirty work uniform, he would retire to the family room, where he tried to watch the evening news, only to fall asleep.
Finally, Mom would sit down at the breakfast bar and eat. Then she would clean up and wash the mountain of dirty dishes in the sink.
My mother was a true saint, and she ran one heck of a short-order grill.